Local Volunteers as Development Partners


These feet are made for walking

He walks the entire coastline, along the picturesque beaches when the tide is out. And when the tide is in, he takes  the long detour through thorny swamps, over cliffs and over sharp gravel beds.  From one coastline to another. From one side of the bay to the other – one step at the time.

Sometimes the road takes him up the river, over high mountains, down steep valleys and though wind swept grasslands into cold dark forests.

Meet him – middle-aged, average height,  tough, wiry and bronze from being chiseled by sun, rain, wind and salt;  limbs – lean and tough, disciplined to walk from sunup to sundown. Not a trace of body fat – a body that has accepted that humans eat to live not live to indulge the stomach.  Soles of the feel toughened up in layers that can withstand sharp gravel and even coals of fire.

Who is he? He is a man on a mission – a crusader. His message: nutrition. Sago grubs, green frog, wild yam and other lost food of the ancestors.

His mission: rekindling confidence in the ways of the fathers that had sustained generations prior to colonisation. Putting confidence into mothers, showing them the difference between eating sago grubs versus a can of tinned fish from Taiwan that costs money, which she may not have.

Why does he do what he do? I asked and he replied that he believes that what he is doing is his calling. If he does not document the secrets of the fathers, who else will? If he does not teach his people to survive, who else will?

No, he is not a shaman. He has a diploma in catering. He has had the taste of the high life, working for city hotels to well stocked mining camps. At the pinnacle of his career, he was even a head chef.

But then he started noticing the trend. Taro yield has decreased both in size and quality.  There seem to be a positive correlation between taro yield and the stature of young people. Even the energy levels and creativity and leadership capacity seems to be at an all-time low.

The river valley was being turned to rice fields, killing all seed bank consequently turning it into a river highway when it flooded. The river was getting killed – no more prawns and no more fish but algae greening the warm waters of the river during dry seasons.

Despite that, the people where still too far away from opportunities to earn money to buy food. His people were destined to suffer malnutrition.

Something had to be done. So he retired from cooking for money and put his life into service for his people – teaching mothers about nutrition using local food sources.

His  total budget is zero. All his expenses paid for with information that he carries in his head. For his pay, he appreciates a smile, a cup of hot sweet tea, food for his stomach and a place to lay his head for the night.

There are so many just like him. Walking bare feet, with a well-worn jacket and raincoat that also keeps cold away at night. A trusty torch, a bag full of buai and a heart that beats for the people.  Reaching one person at the time. Walking all the steps.

He may not win the men of valour award but he is the champion. He is a hero. Even with the taste of the high life of town still mellowing in his memory, he chose to return to the village and is destined to die in the village. Another statistic in the government books. Despite that, the likes of him are conduits of hope for building self-esteem and confidence among the rural masses.

Volunteers such as him are the unsung heroes who are working without recognition. There are so many of them, all in the ministry of dispensing hope. Pastors, health workers, nutritionists, conservationists, elementary school teachers, peace officers and the list will go on.

These people are the hope for educating rural PNG. People like him bring direction to the confusion of a people caught between the past and the present – a people lost in transition between cultures.

These volunteers are not looking for recognition. These volunteers approach what they do as a calling, a purpose for being born into this country for this day and time. They are the real patriots, a shining beacon of example to many who expect pay to do the minimum required to serve this great country.

In the hand of a wise government, local volunteers represent a workforce that can accomplish a lot of government plans in the rural and remote places in PNG. At the moment, these group of people act on their own, with their own resources and at their own time.

They struggle, but they continue because they believe it is their calling. Blessed are the feet of those, who bring good news and hope.

Forgive us our sins against the birds

cassowary_3Birds have been in the center of human attention since the dawn of time. The birds have inspired human cultures – from adornment, to dance moves, to habits. Birds as food is well-documented in human historical archives. Birds have even found a place in religion – immortalized in songs, stories, and rituals. Bird figurines are fashioned from precious stones, carved into wood, shaped out of a rock, molded into glass and even beaten onto metal. Some models are miniature replicas, others like the Nazca  hummingbird outline in the Peruvian desert is close to 100 meters in length and can only be seen from the air.  The modern technological feat of air travel has its source of inspiration in birds.

Once upon a time, beautiful and exotic bird feathers had their price weighed in gold and were traded alongside spice and precious metals. From high couture to indigenous culture, bird feathers has been and is still being used as a significant dress accessory.

Apart from satisfying human values, birds also serve important ecological function. Birds carry pollen from flower to flower ensuring seed production.  The birds even disperse seeds across the landscape that eventually grows into trees in the forest.

Selective harvesting of the best looking bird to satisfy human desire has caused certain bird populations to decline. Through natural selection over time, the brightest bird with the handsomest feather is also the possessor of good genes. Selectively removing the best birds removes the good gene from the gene pool.

With anti-pouching laws in place, extinction through harvest had been minimized. The main threat on birds these days is anthropogenic activities that destroy the habitat of the bird. Logging is one such destructive activity. Logging obliterates the home of the birds and destroys their food source, and in turn paves the way for increased predation.

Climate change, an anthropogenic driven change to the world climate is driving birds up the altitude and when there is no more space, the birds go over the edge. Extinction is inevitable. When that will happen is just a question of time.

Locking birds in aviaries is not a substitute for preservation. If animal indeed do have rights, then keeping birds in aviaries is a crime.   Birds are born to soar into the heavens but aviaries clip the wings of these birds and subdue their instinctive need for depth and breadth in space.  Studies have identified that most tropical bird species are nomads or transient species and move within  certain latitudinal gradients over a large area following availability of food.

In a mixed flock aviary, a number of birds are put into a single aviary. In the wild, these birds would not normally associate. In nature some of these birds occupy space at the top of the canopy while others in the mid canopy and others in the understorey. This division is a function of adaptation to minimize competition. At the different levels, the micro-climate is also specific for the insect, fruits and small plants found in that layer – which in turn is food for the birds. An aviary does not take that into consideration.

Birds in aviaries are fed a standard diet of fruits. Even if all are frugivores, some species feed on insects for extra nutrients. Others have been seen in the wild to practice geophagy – or soil eating for its mineral and salt content. The feathers of birds serve special function including advertisement of fitness, health, sexual fitness, camouflage and even stealth. Colored features are not grown but are the result of ingesting the colors from the food that is eaten.  Being fed a standard diet compromises the integrity of fitness advertisement.

Some birds need to remain in a group for competition to ensure the fittest genes are selected. For instance, the lek in Bird of Paradise is done by a group of male birds and never done by individual birds. Furthermore, without the required environment, a bower-bird may not be able to build required dance area to entice the female.

Just like humans, a reduction in personal space results in different psychological issues. Aggression, depression are two main ones. But changes can happen at the cellular level that affects other functions like mating rituals, reproduction and even the responsibility of rearing chicks.

At the end of the day, when humans finally meet the maker of the birds, we will be found guilty of all the bad things we have done against the birds.

Help. Forests needs protection

With greed in his heart and chain saw in his hand, man has within a few years, reduced to a wasteland the majestic forests which had taken thousands of years to grow.

The experiences from numerous logging projects is sufficient evidence that commercial logging can never deliver benefits on long-term agreements to forest owners, yet, destroy the environment people derive their livelihood from.

The impact of logging is a liability to all the future generations who are connected to this forest through the streams and creeks all the way to the ocean.

Forest are support systems

Trees in a forest are like the support beams of houses. These beams anchor the house and make it stable, on these beams other structures are built upon.

These structures include complex systems like the water cycle and the nutrient cycles. This complex systems have developed over time and science is just scratching the surface of the vast interdependence of life on this self maintaining system.

The impact of removing these support beams is a house that is destabilized.

Removal of trees through logging also disrupts numerous mutual relationships widespread in the forest – the loss of one species has a negative impact on others.  For instance, the loss of a fruiting tree depend on the animal that feeds on it to disperse their seeds and these tree species may fail to recruit seedlings if these frugivores disappear because of loss of their food source.

Removing forests also opens up the canopy and simplifies the vertical stratification of the forest. Each canopy level is structured according to the distribution of pollinators. A simplification of strata allows more sunlight into the forest floor which in turn encourages the growth of more pioneer species and weeds. Such generalist species are more adaptable and can cope with the effects of changed forest stratums, but not so for most primary forest birds and mammals that are specialists with narrow niches.  Removing the different strata also removes the natural moisture held by the trees, compounded with increase in the wooden debris, the incidence for bush fire is increase.

Forest fragmentation through logging also disrupts the connectivity in the landscape. The fragmentation of the forest isolates patches of vegetation resulting in increased isolation and the separation of small populations which increases the distances between similar species. This reduces the inter-tree movement of pollinators and seed dispersers. Even the pool of available pollinators is reduced as an effect of habitat change, further reducing between-plant pollen flow leading to an insufficient regeneration of forest trees due to reduced seed production from the disruption of plant-pollinator interactions.

Furthermore, removing only the specially selected trees reduces the genetic pool of this particular tree species. Selectively removing the biggest trees also delays the seed producing potential of the forest.

Protect forest to protect water

Nature has an efficient system of recycling water. Logging, however, destroys the system that ensures there is fresh, clean water for both wildlife and human beings. The removal of trees results in the groundwater tables getting depleted because the trees lose their function of helping the soil absorb flowing water. When there are no trees, water just runs off, leaving no chance for the groundwater tables to absorb more water. The land then becomes unproductive as soil properties responsible for supplying soil nutrients are leached from rain falling freely on the soil when the canopy is removed. The large quantities of sediments washed away from deforested areas end up in streams and river cause high turbidity and siltation, combine this with run-off from diesel and other petroleum oils used by loggings machinery and chemicals employed to treat the timber, and fisheries downstream as far as the reefs is threatened.

Furthermore, deforestation disrupts the water cycle by changing weather patterns. Intact forests  play an important role in how rainfall is formed.

Water quality is a good predictor of human health.

Forest have potential value for future

The forest is a store-house of products yet to be discovered that may have vital use for humans in the future. However, this storehouse is getting lost when loggers are allowed to indiscriminately rape the forest. We are yet to document plant and animal life that live in tree canopies as well as on forest floors, and those hidden under litter. A systematic research on what we have in our forests may reveal potential products that may become a sustainable source of revenue in the future. The loss of this undiscovered value can be prevented.

REDD+ is a potential source of revenue in the near future for forested communities. REDD+ can only be realized on unfragmented, intact forest. The advantage of REDD+ is that, forest owners can still benefit from the services that a forest renders while still making money. This is unlike what happens with commercial logging where the loss of ecosystem services is the price paid for the royalties. Money cannot bring back the ecosystem services, because only an intact forest that maintains ecosystem services.

Large intact forests: best climate change adaptation strategy

The impact of climate change is another challenge imposed on humans by nature. The impact is unpredictable and is happening at a very fast rate that even nature has no time to adapt to the changes. A large intact ecosystem is more resilient to the impacts of climate change, so protecting the forest is the best climate change adaption strategy.

A forest untouched by commercial loggers is insurance for forest dwelling people as a source of maintaining a livelihood in the face of the changes affecting the climate. Therefore, forests need to be protected from the loggers just because money from commercial logging cannot buy services rendered by large intact forests.

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